Department of Energy releases hydroelectric production expansion for coming years
The U.S. Department of Energy released its Hydropower Vision, a new, forward looking plan for emissions-free electricity generation that lays out pathways to better harness hydroelectric production throughout the nation.
The Energy Department looks to reach its goals by 2050, including eight hydroelectric producing dams in the Palmetto State. Three of those span the Savannah River between Georgia and South Carolina.
Hydroelectric generation has been a source of electricity in the United States since the 1880s. According to the Energy Department’s Vision, hydropower accounts for more than 6 percent of current U.S. power-sector electricity generation and nearly 9 percent of U.S. total electricity generating capacity.
According to the DOE, hydroelectric generation capacity tallied to 101 gigawatts in 2015. The vision said the hydroelectric industry supported approximately 143,000 jobs in 2014, with 2013 hydropower-related expenditures supporting $17.1 billion in capital investment and $5.9 billion in wages paid to workers.
The pathway laid out by the Energy Department expects that capacity to grow to 150 gigawatts by 2050 and expects to top the halfway mark of that growth by the year 2030.
The nearest South Carolina power generating dam to Aiken is Thurmond Dam on the Savannah River near Clarks Hill. The dam was completed in 1954 and created J. Strom Thurmond Lake. The lake was originally known as Clarks Hill Lake but was changed to J. Strom Thurmond after passage of a bill through Congress in 1988. The lake, with a shoreline of 1,200 miles, is part of a series of three lakes on the Savannah River that harness the power of moving water to produce electricity. All three are operated by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Les Rice, engineer at the Thurmond Dam, said the dam is a gravity fed, peaking power plant.
“In the summer, when everyone is running their air conditioners, electricity demand is high. During peak demand, we open the gates to keep enough power on the grid,” he said.
According to Rice, Thurmond Dam can move from cold to producing electricity in less than five minutes. The dam also has features that make it capable of self-starting in the event of rolling blackouts or other power systems failures.
Rice said the cross-border power plant supplies several major customers with its production; two lines go to Georgia Power and one line each goes to Santee Cooper, SCE&G and Duke Energy. Each one of the seven generators inside the plant is capable of producing enough electricity to power 54,000 homes.